Why This Teen is Fighting Back Against Elephant Poaching
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Why This Teen is Fighting Back Against Elephant Poaching

Meet 16-year-old Zach from New Jersey. When he returned home after two years of Rustic summers, he knew he wanted to continue his global impact. Read below to find out how.

Name: Zach Kauderer

Age: 17

Hometown: Englewood, New Jersey

What programs did you travel on with Rustic? What did you think about the experiences?

Since learning about Rustic from my brother a few years ago, I have done two Rustic trips. The first trip that I did with Rustic was Innovation in Action in Cuba. This trip was absolutely amazing! Not only did I get to see and learn about the beauty and history of Cuba, but I also had the pleasure of truly learning about Cuba’s recent changes in a really cool way.

The second trip that I did with Rustic was Summer Camp Leadership in Costa Rica. This trip was so different from my trip to Cuba, but it was still absolutely amazing. The bonds that I had the privilege of forming with some of the local children were absolutely awesome.

Why did you decide to start Elephant Highway?

Overall, my experiences with Rustic have been amazing, and they have lead me to work harder on the non-profit that I started called Elephant Highway. Elephant Highway is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that I started with my two brothers back in 2012. While on a family safari to Kenya and Tanzania, we learned a little bit about poaching.

While staying at a lodge in Kenya, we heard that an elephant was killed less than a mile from our lodge, and that was when we realized that this problem was too big for people not to know anything about it. There are a ton of statistics about poaching that are absolutely mind-boggling, yet so unknown. Did you know that one elephant is killed every 15 minutes for their ivory tusks? At the current rate, studies show that there will be no elephants in the wild within 25 years.

What have been your biggest successes and biggest challenges of starting your own organization?

When we started Elephant Highway, we wanted to raise awareness about the cause that we are all so passionate about. After months of reaching out to people in our local community and making a website where people could learn a little bit about the problem, we realized that we should do more. In the following months, we began selling two products—t-shirts and an adoption package.

Starting Elephant Highway was by no means easy. In our first year of selling merchandise, we sold less than 50 shirts and most of the shirts we sold were to family and friends. The excitement that all of us had when we sold our 100th shirt was great, but that was also when we realized that this can be bigger than just a local thing. Now, to date, we have shipped products to over 20 countries all over the world, and nearly 18 percent of our orders are international. The time that all three of us have put in has been so worth it because every time that we donate money to one of our charities, we know that we are making a real difference.

What advice would you give fellow high schoolers who want to start a nonprofit or fundraise for an existing one?

A tip that I would give to anyone looking to start a company—nonprofit or not—is that make sure you are passionate about it. If you ever start a company with the goal of making money then it will never succeed, but if you start a company with the goal of selling great products, or helping a great cause, then you can do it. The joy that helping these gorgeous animals has brought to me has been the biggest success because I know that we are truly making a difference. Check out this video discussing the fight against poaching that my brother Josh made.

To become an Impact Ambassador for the Rustic Pathways Foundation and support a project you’re passionate about, head to rusticpathway.org/dev-ambassador to start making an impact today.

About the Author

Rachel Levin

Brand Engagement Manager

Rachel joined Rustic in 2013 and led programs for three summers in Costa Rica, Peru, and Ghana. She’s also led programs in Fiji and Tanzania. A graduate of the University of Vermont with degrees in sociology and Spanish, Rachel focuses her love for travel, writing, and her unquenchable curiosity of our natural world as Rustic’s Brand Engagement Manager. Based in Tahoe, CA, Rachel is a talented ceramicist and lover of the outdoors.